Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Why We Chose What We Chose

Pitch Madness is truly Madness.  Over 400 submissions racked up in the inbox, giving the slush readers an immense job to root out the entries that would progress onto the next rounds.  Those who progressed then bumped into round two, where they were subjected to the same treatment.  If a submission managed to squeeze into the third round, that's where the hosts and co-host came in.

So, why did the hosts pick what they picked?

Here were our top ten reasons:

1)  Kickass concepts (original, well thought out, commerical or potentially award-winning)
2)  Writing with voice and character
3)  A piece we'd love to read to our own kids/teens
4)  A submission that would fall into current editor and agent wish list needs (yes, we do actually research the agents participating, and so should you, as it heightens your chances of being picked!)
5)  Submissions with parallels to other books (we liked retellings and reimaginings, and books that could slide into a gap in a burgeoning market)
6)  Books that gave us something unusual (we liked to take a few risks)
7)  Writing with a good balance of character, pertinent detail, but not too much description in the opening pages
8)  Genre mash-ups (we find those really cool!)
9)  Something that put a new twist on an old idea
10)  That indefinable X Factor

So there's a little insight on our reasons for picking what we picked.

And I tell you what, for all of you being such good sports, I'm going to give away ten first chapter critiques to the first ten people who comment on the blog and say what it is THEY like in a entry.

Good luck!

Fiona

P.S.  My comments in reply don't count as one of the ten!  ;-)

50 comments:

  1. I didn't enter this time around, but had fun looking at all the entries. What a hard job it would be! I'd probably choose entries based on what I'd like to read more than anything (I guess I wouldn't make a very good judge). So I'd probably be drawn to contemporary YA, funny stories, and fantasy. A funny contemporary fantasy would be amazing to read - anyone want to write one of those for me?

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    1. It's so hard picking entries, as there were loads I loved reading but didn't quite fit the bill (I find that when I'm interning too!). I love Contemporary YA, and I wish I could write funny, but apparently my funny bone has taken a long walk off a short pier. BTW, if you want a critique on anything, feel free to email me on freelance_writer_fm@hotmail.com. Critiques go to the first ten replies, regardless of whether they entered the contest or not. :-)

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    2. I definitely don't envy you. I intern as well, but it's easier because it's more anonymous, I think. Oh, and I'd love to send you the first chapter of my current project! Expect an email soon :) I look foward to seeing what everyone else likes in an entry.

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    3. Really looking forward to it. I love connecting with other writers. Can't wait to see what you've written! :-)

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  2. I like to see voice in entries :) and also, if the book is concet-based, then something abou the contest.
    Oh, and I'd love a crotique from you !

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    1. Voice is so important, it stands out above almost everything else. Email me on freelance_writer_fm@hotmail.com for a critique. Really looking forward to seeing your work! And thanks for stopping by! :-)

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    2. Just sent you my pages :) soooo exciting !!

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  3. Omg this is what happens when I write in a hurry! I meant concept-based, of course, and critique

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    1. Ha! That happens to me all the time. Most noted error of late: He didn't come for his shift (minus the F). Oops.

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  4. I think the entries that have the best chance have intriguing pitches that created all the right questions (and don't confuse the judges), plus make them want to read the story to find the answers.

    For the first 250, I think those that make it to the final round have a nice dose of voice with a little backstory fed in, just enough to entice the reader to read more. They also need a hook that makes the reader say, "Oh my God! What?!"

    And I'd also love a crit. Thank you so much for this opportunity.

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    1. I think you're spot on about not confusing the judges. Clear concepts are so important. The first thing I look for (I intern at an agency) is character + stakes + consequences.

      Looking forward to seeing your work. Email me anytime on freelance_writer_fm@hotmail.com :-)

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  5. Great post. Thank you for the insight on how entries were selected.

    I was drawn to the pitches that were clear in what the conflict(s). Loved the ones that hinted at both the external and internal conflicts the main character would face. I also want to be surprised. Give me something that hasn't been a hundred times before.

    In the first 250 words, I like to know where I am, who I'm following and why I should care. Action is also key. 250 words of description tend to make me stop reading. And make me care about the character. I don't have to like them, necessarily. Love if they are flawed, but have some redeemable characteristic that makes me want to follow them to the next page.

    I would love a critique if they are still available. Thank you for offering to do this.

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    1. Oh gosh yes - internal conflicts are just as important as external conflicts. Wonderful observations! I also agree heartily on description laden openings. I like to get to know my character through their actions.

      Happy to do a critique. Pop me an email on freelance_writer_fm@hotmail.com :-)

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    2. Thank you! :) And best of luck with the agent round reveals today. So exciting! Can't wait to see if any of the entries I loved are selected.

      Do you want the pitch included it the email, as well?

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    3. TeamAwesome is doing really well in the bids just now. So exciting! And yes, including the pitch would help a lot! :-)

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    4. That's great. I have my fingers crossed for The Murder of George Wickham. The pitch caught my attention right away. Big P & P fan. I'd love to see Wickham get what he deserves. :)

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    5. Seems we have very similar taste - I adore The Murder of George Wickham!

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  6. Thank you for sharing this!

    I think I would be drawn to the entries that were unique, but clear in the premise. Clearly defined stakes in a pitch would be a must for me, only because I'd like to know from go why I'd want to be invested in a story.

    For the excerpt, voice would trump everything for me. A manual on the art of watching paint dry can be the most fascinating thing ever if written by the right person.

    Reading the entries, I can see why you all had a tough time picking! They are all wonderful, and I've already picked out a few I can't wait to read when they're published!

    Thank you for offering the critique as well! That is really awesome of you :)

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    1. I love the analogy of a manual on watching paint dry could be fascinating if written by the right person. That is so true!

      Email me on freelance_writer_fm@hotmail.com for a critique! :-) Can't wait to see your work!

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    2. Thank you so much!!! I sent mine just a few minutes ago :)

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  7. Thank you so much for offering critique giveaways!

    I'm drawn to pitches that have stakes and a unique premise.

    In the first 250 words, it's very important to me that the MC is relatable (e.g., through his/her voice, interaction with his/her peers, whether he/she is likeable). Sometimes, it's something that the MC does which piques my curiosity and makes me want to know what happens next.

    I also need to know where the story is located and an idea of why things are happening.

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    1. Being able to relate to the MC is one I think a lot of people forget. They get so engrossed in the story, they forget to look at what it is that makes readers WANT to connect to a character.

      Feel free to send your 1st chapter to me on freelance_writer_fm@hotmail.com :-)

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    2. Thanks for your reply, Fiona!

      I'll send my first chapter to you later today.

      Here's the thing though. There are many published books (e.g., Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coltown or Jonathan Stroud's The Screaming Staircase) that start with action and then go into flashback mode the following chapter(s) in order to connect with the characters.

      It seems like it's ok for established authors to do that, but not debut authors. What are your thoughts?

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    3. I actually think that's a very intelligent question. I think it depends on HOW the action is brought about, and what it reveals of the character as it progresses. If the action reveals something about the character, then goes back into a flashback in the following chapters to build the character more, then I think that can work well.

      However, if action is just there, without highlighting something about the character, then it can be cold and leave it hard for the reader to connect to.

      For example, in The Coldest Girl in the first paragraph we learn something about the type of person the MC is:

      "The rest of her, including her clothes, was still completely dry, which was kind of a relief."

      Though this character has awoken in a bathtub, she hasn't panicked or jumped up startled. She's appraised her situation and been thankful she's not wet. That tells you about the type of personality she has.

      We also find out that she wears "oxblood boots" and she "kissed her mirror for luck". It's the details that show WHO she is to an extent. This is how you can start with action, but build in character subtly.

      JMO. :-)

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    4. Thanks for the examples, Fiona!

      I feel it's quite tricky to balance action and build in character subtly in order to introduce the MC's normal world.

      If not done correctly, readers or agents comment that they couldn't connect to the MC in the opening scene and would like to have more backstory.

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  8. I've been reading the entries and I can see a little of all 10 in each. These elements are truly what make a novel irresistible. This post makes me challenge my own manuscript. You're offer of a critique is so generous! If you were to look at my work, the things I am looking for are weather the characters voice captures you, weather there is that immediate attention, and whether the concept has that X Factor.

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    1. Hi! Thanks for stopping by. I think it's hard to roll up all ten elements in a book (I think that's what the bestseller lists are for!), but there were certainly some great entries in the contest.

      Pop me an email on freelance_writer_fm@hotmail.com with your first chapter. :-)

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    2. Thanks! And hope you have great weather today whether you like it or not. :)

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    3. I fortunately live in Cyprus, so the sun is almost always shining! :-) 8-)

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  9. Voice is definitely key, but the story has to move forward. What I like about many of the openings I've been reading for PitchMadness seem to have both.

    I also agree that your offer is generous. There are so many conversations comments above, so I don't know if I made it in the top 10!

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    1. Theresa, feel free to send to send your first chapter to freelance_writer_fm@hotmail.com

      I agree about the story moving forward. A book that can't get started will rarely hold a reader's attention. :D

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  10. I'm drawn to voice and a unique premise. That's what makes me want to read more.

    I'd love a critique.

    Thanks,
    Sue

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    1. Sue, you've got a good point about uniqueness. I have seen a lot of similar ideas come through the query inboxes in my time.

      Send me your first chapter on freelance_writer_fm@hotmail.com :-)

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    2. Thank you very much. I'll send it today or tomorrow. I'm enjoying this dialogue.

      Sue

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  11. ....and whether I can use the right form of the word whether. That's what I get when I speak into my phone and don't read back over what I said. GAH!!!

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    1. Lol That made me laugh. My computer and I argue a lot over words when I speak to it. Apparently, it doesn't do Scottish accents! lol

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  12. Reading through the entries, I seriously don't know how people were able to chose--so many made me want to read on! Though the ones that captured me the most had a unique premise. That's what usually gets me first. Then, a character that intrigues me makes it impossible to let go. At least, that's what works for me!

    I'd love a critique, if there's still an opening :)

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  13. Bingo, you're lucky number ten Meradeth!

    You're right, there were so many to choose from. What makes it harder is that you can't take ONLY your favorites, as they've got to be agreed upon by slush readers and hosts. So some of my faves didn't make it! Wah!

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    1. Seeing the results today was totally interesting--there were a few that totally made me wonder why they didn't get picked! Gotta love the subjectivity :)

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  14. I like opening that gives me chills and makes me think "Uh-oh, now what's going to happen". I like unique ideas and quick paced wording.

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    1. Nice observation on the pacing. I know I hit ten critiques already, but I can't leave a person left out, so feel free to email me on freelance_writer_fm@hotmail.com if you'd like a 1st chapter critique! :-)

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  15. I tried like the devil to post this from my phone in the car this morning on my way to work. It wouldn't let me!!! I don't think I made the cut for the chapter critique, but I thought I'd share my thoughts anyway.

    I am always drawn to unique twists on old stories and clever adaptations of them. Speculative fiction is kind of my thing, and I love how those stories illuminate possibilities of what may come.

    Thanks for sharing this! It is nice for us lowly aspiring writers to get a glimpse into this world.

    Susan

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    1. Hi Susan! Oh no! I hate it when there are phone gremlins! Feel free to send me your chapter on freelance_writer_fm@hotmail.com :-)

      I love adaptations and retellings. They always catch my attention because they are familiar yet new at the same time! :-)

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  16. So sorry to have missed this opportunity...but great points and really like your blog- new follower :) Cheers!

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    1. Deirdre feel free to send your chapter along. I'm a sucker for missed opportunities! So glad you like the blog, and thanks for following! :-)

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  17. Pitch Madness rocks! I didn't get a chance to be a slush reader this Sept, but maybe next time. Go Team Awesome! :)

    P.S. It's so amazing that your writing journey mirrors mine. Twinsies!

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    1. It be awesome if you're involved in Pitch Wars next time around! :-) And yes, twinsies! I feel success brewing! :-)

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  18. I remember judging these contests. SO hard. There are always way more entries that deserve to get picked than that can. Good for you for helping out with this!

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    1. Aren't they just? Soooo hard just to pick one!

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